Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Nick Lampson, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas
Thank you, Chairman Mitchell and Ranking Member Brown-Waite for inviting me to today’s hearing. I am honored to join you on this distinguished Subcommittee and am proud to introduce Corporal Casey Owens of Missouri City, Texas. Casey is an exemplary young man, and I commend him for his willingness to continue to serve his country and his fellow veterans.
I was impressed when we met yesterday for the first time by all of his accomplishments. A graduate of Mayde Creek High School, he went on to the University of Texas. But following the attacks on September 11, he decided to join the Marines. He was deployed twice – the first time from February 2003 to October 2003 and the second time from August 2004 until September 20, 2004 when he sustained his injuries. During his time in the Marine Corps he received several medals in recognition of his distinguished service.
Less than a year after sustaining his injuries, Casey successfully completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 2005 using a hand-cranked wheel chair with a time of approximately two and a half hours – probably better than any of us here. He is currently training as a member of a competitive ski team in Colorado that has been recognized by the Paralympics and the VA as an official training center.
Even more impressive than these accomplishments, in my opinion, is Casey’s advocacy for veterans’ care. He has worked with Mayor Bill White’s Veterans Task Force, which was established last year to address the needs of Houston’s veterans, both young and old, when it comes to housing, health and mental care, job training, and other issues. And he has come here today, to testify before Congress about the challenges new veterans in this country continue to face as they transition from DOD to the VA system and try to navigate it.
Most impressive, though is the concern for his fellow veterans and those that will come after him. He is here today to ensure that our nation’s future wounded warriors will not go through the same frustrations and feelings of neglect that he and his friends have experienced as the DOD and VA have struggled to adapt to a new breed of patients. They deserve much more in return for their service, and I commend Casey for his advocacy on their behalf.
Thank you again, Chairman Mitchell and Ranking Member Brown-Waite for allowing me to join the subcommittee today for this hearing. As a representative from a state with of one of the nation’s largest veterans’ populations, I sincerely appreciate your invitation, and would like to commend your leadership and the entire committee for your commitment to all of our nation’s veterans. I am especially pleased to be here to listen to the testimony of my constituent, Casey Owens, as well as the other witnesses.
Care for veterans such as Edward Wade and Casey Owens was by trial and error, as there was no system of care in place for these new types of injuries – both external and internal. Casey expressed to me his worry that there are still issues with care for polytrauma patients today. And I was most impressed with his concern for those who will come after them and his hope that they will not come to Congress with the same exact issues, complications, and frustrations as we are hearing today. I am proud that this Congress has taken steps to address the issues – through record funding levels and new initiatives to address the injuries of these conflicts – multiple amputations, TBI, PTSD. The DOD and VA have initiated new, and innovative ways to help OEF and OIF veterans, but the system is still daunting and adapting to a new model for care has proven difficult. Casey pointed out however, that as he has traveled across the country, meeting and competing with fellow veterans, he has realized and encountered the disparity in care at VA centers across the country. He also brought up an important point to me – what are the new caseworkers and nurses doing? How is the new funding being put to use exactly? What are the results? As we are knee-deep in the budget season and approach the appropriations process, I believe these are critical questions that MUST be answered – so that veterans 2 to 3 years down the line do not come to us with the same problems. These wounded warriors deserve no less – they truly have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and they do not deserve to be feel that they must jump through hoops – or worse, that they have been neglected, when they need our help the most.
Over the past couple of years I have heard about the same issues from veterans across my district – as well as from the testimony we will hear today: increase options for care, increase coordination between DoD and VA regarding records and evaluations, increase coordination between departments of the VA, and the need for more help for families and caregivers. Last year this Congress approved record funding levels and other legislation to address these issues – and I am eager to hear about the progress. As we are continuing to hear about these issues, I fear we still have a long ways to go. The hurdles our soldiers and their families face should not be so difficult.